Nyck de Vries to replace Hamilton in FP1 — what to watch for at the French GP


Formula 1 lands at Paul Ricard amid the swirl of a heatwave and rumours over which drivers will make the cut — and who will get the chop — for the 2023 F1 season: Nyck de Vries will put his name in the hat with a French Grand Prix practice session in the Mercedes



Formula 1 heads to the south of France this weekend following the thrilling Austrian Grand Prix which saw Charles Leclerc take victory ahead of Max Verstappen, while both of their team-mates retired from the race.

Ferrari have now won the past two grands prix but still trails Red Bull by 56-points in the championship, while Verstappen holds a 38-point lead in the driver’s standings.

This will be F1’s fourth visit to Circuit Paul Ricard since its reintroduction to the calendar in 2018 but it could also be the last.

The track’s contract with F1 expires at the end of this year and, with a long list of venues wanting to host a Grand Prix, France could be on its way out. Although if there’s another thriller like last year’s race, its argument for a new deal will only be stronger.

Here is what to watch out for at the 2022 French GP.

Reigning Formula E champion Nyck de Vries will replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in FP1

DE VRIES Nyck (ned), Reserve Driver of Mercedes AMG F1 Team testing the Williams Racing FW44, portrait during the Formula 1 Pirelli Grand Premio de Espana 2022, 6th round of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship, on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, from May 20 to 22, 2022 in Montmelo, Spain - Photo Florent Gooden / DPPI

Nyck de Vries impressed on his Williams cameo in Barcelona

Florent Gooden / DPPI

For 2022 the new sporting regulations dictate that teams must run a ‘rookie’ driver, defined as someone who “may not have participated in more than two F1 World Championship Races during their career”.

As a Brackley reserve, de Vries was already utilised by Williams – which uses Mercedes engines – at this year’s Spanish GP, but he will now get another chance in 2022 machinery as he blasts the W13 down the Mistral straight.

This is the first time this season the team has run a rookie in a practice session. Its other reserve driver, de Vries’ Mercedes Formula E team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, could well get a chance later this year.

Alternatively, it could look to Danish F2 competitor Frederik Vesti, who is also affiliated with the team as a junior.


Final year of its contract, will F1 return to Circuit Paul Ricard?


Could the French GP be moved to a street circuit in Nice?

Ask many F1 fans which track they would like to see dropped from the calendar and it is likely a large proportion of them will say Paul Ricard.

Originally built for testing, its flat surface and huge run-off areas have rarely offered exciting races and even the drivers are nonplussed: Sebastian Vettel has expressed hope that the French GP will go to a different venue.

However, the race last year actually proved to be pretty nail biting with Verstappen overtaking Lewis Hamilton for the lead late on, while Sergio Perez took the final podium spot from Valtteri Bottas at a similar time.

But was this just a one-off, or can Paul Ricard produce another exciting race?

Stefano Domenicali, F1 CEO, has discussed the idea of moving the French GP to a street circuit in Nice, with little enthusiasm about going back to France’s only other Grade One track, Magny Cours.

Should F1 come to an agreement with Paul Ricard, it could be on a biannual basis to accommodate the venues waiting for their place on the calendar. Las Vegas and Qatar are being introduced next year and South Africa is likely to also host a race.

The alternative may be to lose the French Grand Prix altogether, but considering the nation’s rich motor racing heritage, and with two grand prix winning drivers on the current grid – Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, as well as French-speaking, Monegasque Charles Leclerc, that loss would be keenly felt.


Ferrari and Red Bull dominant, but will Mercedes spoil the party?


No team other than Ferrari or Red Bull has finished a race inside the top two

Austria was bittersweet for Ferrari, despite Charles Leclerc’s race win. While rapidly closing down Verstappen, Carlos Sainz’s engine caught fire in the latter stages and Leclerc then experienced a throttle problem which threatened his lead.

The team left the red Bull Ring with two victories on the bounce, however, which has helped to reignite Ferrari’s challenge in bith championships.

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But those results don’t tell the whole picture; Ferrari missed various race-winning opportunities during Red Bull’s streak, while Verstappen would have likely won the British GP had he not ran over some debris.

Hopes for a third victory in a row at Paul Ricard may also depend on some Red Bull misfortune: the circuit’s high-speed corners connected by long straights are likely to give the RB18 the edge.

Don’t forget Mercedes either after impressive pace at Silverstone, masked by a poor qualifying performance and the first-lap crash involving George Russell.

The team has had a driver on the podium in each of the past four races, and continued development could push this year’s car closer to the front.

This could have a decisive impact on the title picture, with Hamilton – who has won twice at Paul Ricard – or Russell potentially in a position to take points from Ferrari and Red Bull.


Paul Ricard weather: sweltering conditions forecast as heatwave continues


The temperature is forecast to be in the thirties throughout the weekend

Forecasts for the coming weekend predict temperatures as high as 36C on Sunday — more than 10C higher than the July average for the region.

As well as making racing uncomfortable for drivers, the continuing European heatwave is set to have implications for tyre management: Pirelli is bringing the C2, C3 and C4 compounds, omitting the very hardest and very softest options.

Most teams have suffered some issues with temperature regulation during the season, and the forecase temperatures will be a test of how effectively they can cool the power unit and brakes: expect to see plenty of vents being opened up.


Expect more problems with track limits this weekend 


With nothing but asphalt around the circuit, track limits has become a severe problem at Paul Ricard in recent years

There were 43 reported breaches of track limits at the Red Bull Ring and if you were looking for a circuit to exceed that figure, then Paul Ricard wold probably be it.

With its distinct lack of grass or gravel traps, the temptation for drivers to go as close to the white line as possible is as high as any track on the calendar.

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This has paved way for penalties in the past – Daniel Ricciardo in 2019 for example – and there could well be more again this weekend, given the advantage to be gained by crossing the white line.

Christian Horner predicts the situation will be more severe this weekend. “The problem is the nature of the circuit invites the drivers to use the track limits,” said Red Bull’s team principal.

“And of course, there were many, many drivers that were infringing that over the [last] weekend.

“I think my concern isn’t so much [Austria], I think Ricard will be a bigger issue in that there is  a genuine time gain to be had. And obviously, you’ve got acres of tarmac there, so it’s just inviting you to run offline.”

Of those 43 incidents in Austria, four drivers – Vettel, Gasly, Lando Norris and Zhou Guanyu – were given a time penalty for exceeding the three permitted breaches. The threat of a race-changing sanction for off-track excursions hangs over the again in France.


The driver silly season has begun 

Colton Herta testing McLaren F1 team, 2022

Colton Herta racked up 750kms in a test for McLaren at Portugal


A lot has happened to fuel driver market rumours the Austrian GP.

IndyCar star Colton Herta tested a 2021 car for McLaren at Portimao, while the Woking-based outfit also announced the signing of reigning IndyCar champion, Alex Palou.

Palou’s future is up in the air, with Chip Ganassi Racing also claiming a contract with the driver, but a Formula 1 future with McLaren has been mooted.

This has piled more pressure onto Ricciardo, who has struggled to find his form since joining McLaren in 2021, and was already thought to be under threat from Alex Albon and Oscar Piastri who have been linked with his seat.

Ricciardo insists that he is committed to the team and has a contract for 2023.

As F1 heads towards its summer break, expect driver rumours for 2023 to intensify with Fernando Alonso also yet to confirm his seat at Alpine.